NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon and NPR newscaster Korva Coleman both falsely claimed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act "expires tonight." In fact, what is set to expire are the Protect America Act's revisions to FISA; the government would retain all surveillance powers under FISA if the PAA expired.
Opening the "week in review" segment on the February 16 broadcast of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, host Scott Simon falsely claimed that "the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] expires tonight." Similarly, during the, 9 a.m. ET NPR news summary on February 16, newscaster Korva Coleman falsely claimed that the "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires tonight at midnight." In fact, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, what is set to expire are the Protect America Act's (PAA) revisions to FISA, which, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant.
The Washington Post reported in an article titled "If the Law Expires" that if the PAA expired, "The government would retain all the powers it had before last August under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires the government to obtain court approval for surveillance conducted on U.S. soil or against U.S. targets." Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted in a February 13 statement, "[T]he underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies." Further, a February 14 New York Times article reported:
The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.
If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday, intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In addition, Coleman uncritically reported that President Bush "accused House leaders of blocking [FISA's] renewal." However, as Media Matters noted, the House did vote on a 21-day extension of the PAA on February 13. All 195 House Republicans who cast a vote on the extension bill voted against it -- which President Bush had said he would veto -- and the measure failed to pass by a vote of 191 to 229.
Media Matters has documented numerous instances of media outlets falsely reporting that the government's ability to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists would expire if the PAA were not extended.
From the February 16 broadcast of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Saturday:
SIMON: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Senators Barack Obama [D-IL] and John McCain [R-AZ] had a good week; they picked up primary victories in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires tonight. The Senate approved a revision but this week, the bill was stalled in the House.
From the 9 a.m. ET National Public Radio news summary on February 16:
COLEMAN: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires tonight at midnight. President Bush has accused House leaders of blocking the bill's renewal, allowing some domestic spying without warrants. He says it'll be harder to protect American people. Democrats say that's not true, and they're in no hurry to act. NPR's David Nogueras reports.
NOGUERAS: Speaking from the Oval Office, Mr. Bush thanked Democrats in the Senate for passing their version of the bill this week. But with a Saturday deadline looming, House legislators have been deadlocked over a provision giving phone companies retroactive immunity, shielding them from lawsuits related to warrantless wiretapping. The president criticized the House for not passing what he said was a strong piece of legislation.
BUSH: By blocking this piece of legislation, our country is more in danger of an attack. By not giving the professionals the tools they need, it's going to be a lot harder to do the job we need to be able to defend America.
NOGUERAS: In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said even if the law expires, intelligence agencies will still be able to protect the nation. David Nogueras, NPR News, Washington.